Studying abroad was always something I had dreamed of doing in college. I looked forward to exploring new cities, trying new food, and learning a new language. However, as the time to study abroad approached, I got very nervous. I loved studying at UC Berkeley and was scared of missing out on time with my friends, extracurriculars, and everything else that you’re only able to experience for the short 4 years you get in college. It’s very hard to leave your entire life behind, put everything on pause, and move to a new country where you hardly know anyone. That being said, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made in my college career.
This semester, I moved to Barcelona, Spain to take classes at the Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona. I chose Spain for two reasons: I really wanted to go to a country where I could practice the Spanish I had learned in high school, and I wanted to be in Europe so that I can capitalize on the country’s close proximity to other European countries and do some traveling. Here is some of the best things I got out of my time in Spain (and why you all should study in a different country too)!
First, I finally became confident using my Spanish. I remember my first day in Spain, too scared to ask for help at the grocery store because I was worried I would mess up my Spanish. When I finally did decide to timidly ask a question, they immediately realized I didn’t speak Spanish well and replied in the little English they knew. However, as the weeks passed I practiced and became much more confident. I didn’t realize how much better my Spanish had become until I sat in a taxi having a full conversation with my driver for 15 minutes. In just a few short months, I had transitioned from a girl who could barely ask where to find yogurt in the grocery store to confidently having conversations.
Next, I learned how to embrace and enjoy the more relaxed Spanish culture. I have always been the type of person who loves to stay busy. However, in Spain, it is not uncommon to sit at meals for 2-3 hours and enjoy the company of those around you or to enjoy a cup or two of coffee in the afternoon sunshine mid-day. Their culture places so much emphasis on social interactions and enjoying time with friends and family, and I look forward to bringing that back with me to my life in the U.S.
My favorite class in Spain was my “Spanish History & Politics” course. I have always loved history, but in the U.S. so many history classes are focused only on our history. It was fascinating to learn more about the history of the country I was living in and where many of their customs came from. Even more interesting for me was, especially as a Political Economy major, learning all about the current politics of Spain and gaining perspective on it from locals. I was not very aware of politics in Spain other than a few articles I had read, and it was so interesting to be immersed in an entirely different source of news and political reporting.
Finally, being in Spain it was fun to visit new cities across Spain and Europe. I spent the entire 2 semesters prior working to save money, so I could take some weekend trips while I was living in Spain. Traveling has always been something I loved, and it was incredible to be able to pop over to Paris or Copenhagen for the weekend and see and experience those cities and cultures as well. However, my favorite city I visited ended up being 45 minutes South of Barcelona, a beach town called Sitges. My friends and I took a trip down there to enjoy the Spanish celebration of Carnaval, and I fell in love with the serenity but also energy of the city.
Now, I’m not saying everything about studying abroad was sunshine and daisies, and there were definitely many times when I got homesick and just wanted to shop at Trader Joes or go on my favorite Berkeley hike. However, the memories I made, the friends I met, and the experiences and cultural understanding I gained helped me grow and gave me so much more confidence in myself and my abilities. I would highly recommend a semester abroad to anyone considering it!